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Election roundup: The beginnings of a mayoral-donation data site; aide to city councilor hopes to join her on the council

Sharon Machlis lives in Framingham, but she loves working with data and so has started the Contributions to Boston Mayoral Candidates database. Using data from the state, she's created a (still in beta) site where you can see where contributions to the candidates are coming from and how the candidates stack up against each other in terms of pulling in cash.

She's using an automated scraper (for you data nerds, she built it in R) to grab the data from state campaign-finance records. In-city data is organized by city-council district, because anybody familiar with Boston politics is familiar with the impossibility of determining neighborhood lines (because it's still in beta, she's still ironing out some issues with the data, so don't take the maps showing where contributions are from as gospel just yet).

Speaking of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Jon Spillane of Beacon Hill filed papers with them last week to run for one of the four at-large city council seats open this fall. He was director of budget and constituent services for Beacon Hill's district councilor, Kenzie Bok until last week, when he took a leave to run for the council this fall. Before that, he was a housing development officer for DND.

Community organizer Domingos DaRosa of Hyde Park, announced yesterday he's also running for one of the four seats. DaRosa also ran in 2019 and 2017, and will likely be the only candidate to have been ordered to stay away from Charlie Baker's Swampscott home (for trying to deliver some of the needles DaRosa and others collected at Mass and Cass to try to get Baker to do something about the drug use at what is partly a state-owned intersection).

There'll be at least 50% turnover among at-large councilors, since two of the current ones - Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George are running for mayor (even if they wanted to, they couldn't pull a Yancey and also simultaneously run for re-election, thanks to council action after Charles Yancey did that in 2013).

The BU News Service has an audio interview with Wu about tackling inequality in Boston and the current pandemic.

Essaibi George is currently touring all of Boston neighborhood business districts, generally a couple per day, "to discuss with local owners and staff about the resources and support needed to recover, rebuild and thrive post-pandemic."

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Comments

Sharon is putting her skills and spare time to good use with some useful graphs and maps; thanks for doing this! Interesting to see that Wu and Campbell are quite evenly matched in most respect so far and I hope it stays that way; both are well qualified and deserving of the job.

Worth noting -although not surprising- most donations appear to come from "greater downtown" except for George, another worthy candidate, who is doing best at fundraising in Dorchester and Southie.

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I wonder if there’s away to make the connection between the amount of money donated to a candidate and the job a person may hold within the city. It would be interesting to see how many city employees buy their jobs by donating thousands of dollars to back a mayoral candidate. City hall, fire department and police department are full of those who do not have the qualifications for the job but gave enough money to get it.

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During a campaign this only would work for a Mayor running for re-election. Most of these candidates can help influence people to get others jobs but do not have any hiring power.

As for matching up who paid out what to whom and what they currently do and what they will do post election. That would be as simple as pulling a list from the open salary data for city employees for 2020 then get the 2022 list when it comes out and filter out anyone who has not had a significant increase in pay and was there prior to the election. Then you would take the new employee and employee increase in pay list and run that against 2021 campaign contributions.

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Also, aren't contributions to a campaign fund limited to $1000? But you knew that, didn't you?

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I just did a quick search on https://www.ocpf.us/Reports/SearchItems for people who gave money to Marty Walsh recently.

One was someone was a office assistant for a private employer and she gave $400 in 2013. From then on she gave $100/yr and is a city employee. Seems a little quid pro quo, doesn't it?

Marty gets between $50k-$130k per year from 'City of Boston' employees. It's not nothing.

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Seems pretty incredible that people are apparently willing to risk corruption allegations etc for a one-time payment of $300. And it also seems pretty logical to me that someone would donate more in an election year vs other years - maybe she just really hated John Connolly?

Marty gets between $50k-$130k per year from 'City of Boston' employees. It's not nothing.

Isn't the City of Boston one of the largest employers in the city? That doesn't seem that crazy of a number to me given that there are something like 17k people working there. How much does he get from, say, MGH or Liberty Mutual - where we can assume he's probably not pulling strings?

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I don't think it's corruption formally, just something that happens. The BRA / zoning board stuff - that's corruption.

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and then given jobs in return for their donation, how isn't that corruption? Unless I'm misunderstanding what's going on here.

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Your saying it takes $400 to get a job at city hall? Here I thought it took more than that plus years of connections!

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He didn't as a city councilor or as mayor.

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I briefly talked to Sharon about figuring out how to, um, normalize the employer/job fields people are supposed to provide, because, yes, it might be interesting to see how much money a candidate is getting from, say, municipal unions or developers.

It might involve doing queries that string together certain phrases (like "police" and "fire") or maybe adding a field and then manually going through the entries to categorize them (would be tedious, but not too bad if you first sort on the job field) and then letting people search/sort on that.

I'm thinking of maybe trying that, because simple data sorting is something even I could do, while the fancier mapping stuff is way out of my league but something Sharon's very good at.

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It'd be interesting to see the code and be able to potentially contribute some similar improvements.

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You can get the CSV file of individual contributions from her git hub page.
Perhaps a word-cloud of text data from the 'Occupation column' would be helpful if you want to determine which interest group/ occupation contributed to each candidate. I have passing familiarity with shiny apps, and have not rendered a word-cloud in one, but I suspect it can be done.
Adam, I would not do any sorting or mapping manually. What you are proposing is a string search followed by many-to one mapping: a trivial task computationally, and tedious manually. Also, you cannot automate manual curation into a data-analysis pipeline.

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Does she do the same for Framingham political races?

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In fact, she started with Framingham, then decided to try a larger data set.

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This is a great public service by a private person... In a perfect world this would be right on each city)town elections page. I believe campaign financing should be like nutrional info for food. Instead of trying to regulate it to death, let the sun shine on and people can make up their own minds.

I could imagine this being huge with Senate and other bigger district races. It might force candidates to fundraise wider abd not just go for the easy money. If I were a voter in Boston I could see a map like this affecting my vote with the person who has the widest citywide fiscal support getting extra points.

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Big money donors favor Campbell and Wu. George seems to be running more of a grassroots campaign.

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Do you know that for a fact or are you just an AEG fan?

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Data pulled from the github page related to this project,

Michelle Wu, number of donations: 9155
Andrea Campbell, number of donations: 3708
Anissa George, number of donations: 1061
John Barros, number of donations: 78
Jon Santiago, number of donations: 877

Michelle Wu, avg donations per person: 160.04
Andrea Campbell, avg donations per person: 375.93
Anissa George, avg donations per person: 396.92
John Barros, avg donations per person: 1024.81
Jon Santiago, avg donations per person: 469.89

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the people who raised the most money overall also raised the most money from big donors. Which, you know, makes sense.

The only one that really looks odd to me is John Barros, who apparently is only getting money from big donors. I'm curious what that's all about.

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She also just joined the race and has not had a chance to speed up. I would also note that just because money comes from Dorchester does not mean it is always small sums. There are some pretty big homes in that area and very large support businesses with very large financial interests especially in regards to the city. I do not think we will see a clear assessment of the current crop when it comes to money until closer to Memorial Day.

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